Personal Essay (Yemen to America)
by Unbasic, 12th
Arriving in the United States from Yemen at age 11, I faced many difficulties. As a young Muslim girl in a country very different from Yemen, I was completely out of step. The U.S. was one of the most advanced democracies in the world, while Yemen was about to experience the outset of the Arab Spring. Although fluent in Arabic, I knew very little English, but quickly got up to speed in my new language. As a Muslim, I was expected to accept the role of females very different than expected by other families in the U.S. The political climate in the U.S. was not favorable for Muslims. My path to attend College has included a constant struggle to resist stereotypes. which I face repeatedly in the broader community in which I live.
My journey as a Muslim female in the U.S. cannot be described without considering the presence of Islamophobia. Depicting Muslims as anti-American is just plain wrong. A professor at —— College asked me if I would be getting an “arranged marriage” before I turned 18. I remember this moment well and thought only of his ignorance and how offensive his comment was in front of the class. I recall the hurt I felt when I saw my father and brother, dressed in thobes on their way to pray at the mosque, confronted by angry white men asking “why are you here”? And I am deeply offended when, out of ignorance and lack of respect, a white person questions fasting during Ramadan. I could go on.
In my Sunday Arabic School, I learn the true teachings of Islam, which are to live in peace and respect others. In a hadith (words of the Prophet Mohammed), even the manner in which one should eat a meal teaches respect for others. In these classes, I easily get immersed in the Quran, which teaches how to live peacefully in the world and serves as a form of meditation for me. In high school, I also read widely in literature to which I can relate, such as Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. In my experience, solutions to life’s problems are frequently found in fiction and the Quran. In Exit West, a character named Nadia wears the "black robe" not as a symbol of oppression but of freedom and protection. I intend to use my experiences to play a role in society to convey to the community that the Islamic religion and its rich culture are multi-faceted and in line with a peaceful life. It is only through knowledge and understanding of our differences that communities can live in harmony.
As a daughter in a close-knit Muslim family with three brothers and two sisters, I have met the responsibilities expected of me as a result of my gender. This was no easy task. I have served as a “second mother:” cared for younger siblings, performed household duties, and cooked, all while excelling in my school work with the goal of attending college. I am lucky to have supportive brothers and parents who have taught me to be independent and work to achieve my goals. My family is unlike the typical Middle Eastern family, where male children are free to do what they desire while female children are saddled with responsibility and overly protected from the outside world. I reject the thinking of Muslims I know outside my family, who ask: “Why go to college, you’re only going to be a housewife anyway?”
My journey to Mills College is not typical in any way. My religion and culture have played a significant part in my development. I am interested in the sciences, especially where they intersect with my faith. My studies in integrated biology; especially DNA, have created a curiosity to further study these areas. My goal is to explore the possibility of working in the medical field. I am more than my religion or my headscarf.
My path so far has included some difficult times and a variety of accomplishments: leaving Yemen at a young age in the face of the Arab Spring, learning English, playing a central role in a strong and supportive Muslim family, adapting to a completely new country and culture, navigating the tide of Islamophobia, and finding passion and curiosity along the way My father wanted an education but never got it because he needed to work to help support his family. My mother wanted to be a teacher but was sidetracked by the demands of a woman in the Muslim culture. They wanted a better life and education for me. I want to continue on that path and make Mills College my next stop as the first woman in my family to attend college.
by Unknown, 8th
It has hidden in the shadows somewhere where it is dark
It has nested a home inside of us
We’re SCARED to watch the news AFRAID to watch as the next tragedy unfolds
When will the next gun be picked up
When will the next bullets be shot
When will the next bomb be set
The bomb is already ticking, it has been set
Within me, I’m ready to explode
One day my words will blow up
They will shake the world with all its power
And shock the country with all its courage
But the bomb isn’t only in me
It’s in all of the youth’s mind, ready to go off
When the time is right we will stand
We will use all of our ability to change the ways of the past
Because the only thing left to change the future
Is the future
by Grace K. 7th
My first year of middle school changed my life. I pushed away plates of food, “I am not hungry,” I’d say. At night my stomach rumbled, begging for food. My ribs showed, and my weight was dropping at an unhealthy rate. But at that time, my weight wasn’t just my weight. It was my self worth. My gate was stiff, and I felt unworthy as I walked through school.
The girl who I thought was always there for me, left me. Pretending I meant nothing to her, acting as if I wasn’t there. Joining the group of kids who picked on people, throwing juicy tomatoes in the direction of anyone they didn’t approve of at the cafeteria tables. All these emotions bubbled up inside of me anger, sadness the broken, sinking feeling in my stomach. I began gossiping about how much I hated this new “popular” group. When they found out, they got permission to take me out of class to have “a talk with me”. I knew what was happening when they pulled my limp emotionless body out of advisory one afternoon. Right as one girl was about to holler at me, I started crying. Fat, cold tears dripping down my chin and soaking the knee of my blue jeans.
I am not sure why, but I just explained everything. About rehab centers and therapy, dropping scales and panic attacks. How I had marks on my arm, how I tried to crawl out my window one Sunday night. How I felt when my best friend left me. Their faces relaxed, and they just stared for a moment. Kai spoke up saying, “Sometimes I feel bad about the way I look.” I looked up. Never had it occurred to me that another person would feel a similar way, let alone a boy. Hearing that lifted weight off of my shoulders. “Your not ugly, Grace. I just want to tell you that you’re beautiful, and you don’t deserve what you’re going through.” His eyes turned big, and I knew he was telling the truth.
I’ve held that conversation with me for years. We think that we know someone, but the truth is we only know the version of them they've chosen to show us. People can have such an impact on you. Even the people you never expected to.
the anatomy of a Cuban pinata
by Marie Mendez, 11th
There’s a box, they tell me, a box
And I’m sitting here wishing that I had a box: I am
a product of Loving
Nine black dresses banged a gavel;
Decided colors could love each other, could kiss
their own pigment onto the canvas
Of one another.
My father’s favorite jacket is red, loud, angry,
a class clown with a suit and a mortgage: he is my mother’s
prince charming, he takes up the whole room when he talks.
My mom was my blue, the light of the microwave at night, I’d talk for hours
before she could finally get me to sleep.
She loves the ocean.
The salt of that love flows in my veins
mixing with my father’s red.
Their daughters: purple.
Me, my sister; her skin
Darker than mine,
the part of the equation you hadn’t accounted for,
do the math again,
My friends said
“I didn’t do the math homework.”
My friends said:
“What’s an Abulota?”
“Oh, I forgot there was a Mendez after Sparks”
“Lucy, you’re ---ing white”
“Mendez, like Shawn Mendes?”
“Scientifically, people can’t learn a language without an accent after turning 15”
“I’m giving you your brown card, it’s okay, don’t worry.”
“Why is your Spanish accent so much better than everyone else’s? It’s not fair”
And my white mother translating
cognates for me over papi’s
I thought I could build myself a box,
Out of the dancing trumpets I played
As I did the dishes
And rainbow I guess,
The colors I’d never show Abuelita
Out of the green stucco house in the good bad part of town.
We were ordering lunch at a chicken chain, my father
and I, Couldn’t explain it in Spanish
He switched to English, (or English to Spanish, one in the same) the girl
in the paper hat didn’t bat an eye,
Out of looney tunes shows
From my Abuelito’s bed,
the cigar boxes from Havana I have stacked in my room
And the stories they knit for me.
But, When the words of my father’s language dance out of my mouth, they trip, rr’s don't sound like they’re supposed to
And I had to explain to my sister that tacos aren’t our food
But neither are tortas, my dad told me:
“Dad, just tell me, what’d Abuelito say?”
“Nothing, it’s fine”
“He said… your Spanish got worse.”
So, well, I do have a box: I’m just not inside
It’s brown walls:
where they keep guayaba batidas, pastelito’s from porto’s,
lechon asado on noche buena, my dad
never taught me Spanish,
Said he couldn’t teach me
What I needed to know, in a language Mr. Samuel Smith didn’t let him write,
the strings hanging out of the pinata
my Abuelita made me: Cuban
She told me.
She never told me how to open
by O, 11th
She was broken and lost.
She made a lot of mistakes.
She made a lot of bad decisions.
But she was still standing up,
She was still fighting
She had never in her life, given up.
Even when it was all she needed.
She was so powerful,
She had so many ambitious,
She was so strong.
But people had always seen her as
the little one
the messy one
the stupid one with a messy life
If they only had just seen how valuable she was,
If people had just been aware
of her warrior spirit.
If they had just known how much she was.
Maybe and only maybe,
She would of seen her effort
and just for once,
She would of smiled.
Students 6th-12th Grades